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Navigation by the sun and stars for BRNC midshipman

6 July 2017
Young Officers from Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) have been learning traditional navigation skills on board a Spanish Navy’s Sail Training Ship.

The two Midshipmen and their instructor spent nearly two weeks aboard the Elcano sailing from Dublin to the Dutch port of Dan Helder.

Working and living in the cramped mess deck alongside their Spanish counterparts, the two Young Officers settled well into life on board the sailing ship.

Their time on board presented both with opportunities that they would not have had at BRNC.  

Our time on board has really complemented the Initial Warfare Officer (Foundation) course, and has allowed us to consider the Rules of the Road from a very different perspective.

Midshipman Christopher Cotterill

Midshipman Christopher Cotterill said:  “The chance to navigate using a sextant and the position of the sun and stars was something completely new for me, and an excellent learning opportunity. 

“In the modern world we use traditional methods less and less so to do it for real was a genuine thrill. 

“Our time on board has really complemented the Initial Warfare Officer (Foundation) course, and has allowed us to consider the Rules of the Road from a very different perspective.”

The learning was not all one way with the Royal Navy Midshipmen able to pass on some knowledge to the Spanish. 

Midshipman Matthew explained:  “We were also able to show them some elements of coastal navigation that they had not been exposed to before, which was well received by our hosts.”

The two Midshipmen were not the only Royal Naval representatives on board the vessel. 

As well as learning the basics of being a mariner whilst on board Elcano, the third largest tall ship in the world, the two BRNC Midshipmen assisted Sub Lieutenant Hamish Young who has spent the past four and a half months teaching English to the Spanish Midshipmen with lessons on ‘Jackspeak’, the name given to Royal Navy slang.

For Lieutenant Paul White, the instructor from BRNC who accompanied the Midshipman, this was not his first experience of the Elcano.  In 2008, he spent seven months on board the ship as Profesor de Inglés, or English instructor. 

Lieutenant White said:  ‘Coming back to Elcano after so many years has been fantastic, and being able to give the two Midshipmen from BRNC the opportunity to embark in such an important ship to the Spanish Navy has been an honour. 

"Hopefully the friendships they have made will endure, and undoubtedly they have learned a huge amount on board.”

Elcano is currently nearing the end of a five-month voyage which has included visits to the Caribbean and New York.  She is expected to return to her home port near Cadiz this summer. 

The Ship is named after the Spanish navigator, Juan Sebastián de Elcano, who was the first person to lead a circumnavigation of the earth in 1522. 

He took over after the passing of the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who had been appointed leader of the expedition.  To date, Elcano has navigated over 2,000,000 nautical miles and rising, since her launch in 1927, more than any other sailing ship.

The Spanish Midshipmen on board were all in their third year of study at the Escuela Naval Militar (ENM) which is in Galicia, northwest Spain.  

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